by Rev. Julian Duckworth
1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are often grouped together as the Pastoral Epistles, written, as is generally believed, by Paul to individuals about religious beliefs and standards of behaviour to be kept personally and within the Christian church community.
The book begins with a greeting: Paul unto Timothy, my own son in the faith. Timothy, all through the book of Acts, is shown to be a young man, the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father, who converts to Christianity after seeing Paul heal a cripple and then joins him several years later, becoming a constant companion and eventually the bishop of Ephesus. He is said to have been stoned to death, preaching to people who were worshipping the Roman goddess, Diana.
The book is in six short chapters in which faithful ministry, godly behaviour and obedience to the Law are the regular themes, along with direct instructions about Christian households (“for if a man doesn’t know how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” 1:5), respect for older people and the care of younger people, the needs of widows, about being non-preferential and impartial, how ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’ and the need to fight the good fight, the fight of faith, and to lay hold on eternal life to which we are all called. The letter ends with the words, “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to your trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called. Grace be with you, Amen.”
It’s thought that this letter of Paul was written partly to help defend the infant Christian church from the danger of Gnosticism which was gaining ground around the middle of the first century. Gnosticism basically believed that we are trapped spirits in an imperfect world who need ‘gnosis’ or secret esoteric knowledge to be set free, and that Jesus had come to give that knowledge. The implication within Gnosticism is that it little matters how you live your life if you have ‘gnosis’. Hence Paul argues for goodness and moral obedience.
The theology running through 1 Timothy is that Jesus came and ransomed us in our sins.
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (2:5) But most of the theology comes as the background to strong and repeated exhortations to live upright lives, since we live between two appearances of Christ, the first appearance bringing us salvation and the second appearance bringing judgment and final salvation.
There would be little doubt that Paul’s words when written were specifically for those within the infant Christian church. Paul’ many letters to many such young communities were full of encouragement and warnings. But the eternal truth in them (for us) is that the Christian community is an image of our own individual personal inner spirit and its various tendencies, good and bad. So this epistle, for example, speaks out against the false teachings of other doctrines in the same way that we always need to be aware of our own self-seeking states and the ways in which they can subtly deceive us and lead us from truth to falsity, from Christianity to Gnosticism.
These three Pastoral Epistles of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus all emphasise the place of goodness in our spiritual lives. They echo Jesus’ words about fruitfulness, “I have chosen you that you bear much fruit and that your fruit shall endure” (John 15:16) and “By their fruits you shall know them.” (Matthew 7:16)